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'More Than A Number': Mother Of COVID-19 Victim Wants Her Son To Be Remembered

Robert Wagstaff died of COVID-19 April 10, before he could finish his accounting degree at Texas A&M University-San Antonio. He was 30 years old.

Family and friends remember him for his gentle spirit and dedication.

“He had taken his time getting his degree so he could finish with no student loan debt. And he had accomplished that goal,” said his mother, Audrey Wagstaff.

Robert was agraduate of the Southwest Independent School District and earned two associate degrees at St. Philip’s College. He began working towards his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M-San Antonio in 2014. In his free time he loved to read and play the card game MAGIC.

His mother described him as kind, gentle, honest and hard working, the type of person who liked to blend into the crowd.

“If you needed him, he was there. And if you didn't need him, then he was still there to support you. But he was never up in your business, or trying to tell you how to do things or how to run your life,” Wagstaff said.

One of her favorite early memories of Robert involved a party and a piñata. He was one of the smallest children there, so he was supposed to take his turn hitting the piñata first, but Wagstaff said he wouldn’t do it.

“He just didn't understand that that was what you were supposed to do to make the candy fall. He just did not want to hurt anybody,” she said.

Wagstaff’s friend, Maria Lopez, watched Robert grow up. She’s known them both for so long that she calls them by their family names, Sheron and B.B.

“He was always a big boy,” Lopez said. “I would tell Sheron, 'That boy needs to play some football.' And Sheron'd tell me, 'No, my baby's smart. He's hitting the books not no tackling.'”

When Robert got sick with COVID-19, he was placed in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital. Wagstaff said she had to say goodbye to her son using a walkie talkie while standing on the other side of a glass door.

“I think that's the hardest (part) for the family that is left behind. You're not able to touch. You're not able to talk to them,” said Lopez, who was with Wagstaff when her son died.

Wagstaff said she wants people to remember that every person sick with COVID-19 is someone’s loved one.

“COVID-19 is not something that people should play with. It is a horrible, nasty virus that has no mercy,” she said. “You don't want to be the one to give it to your neighbor, to your grandma, to your babies. You don't want to be that person.”

Robert would have graduated from Texas A&M-San Antonio in December if he hadn’t been exposed to the coronavirus. The university will be awarding him his degree posthumously at its delayed commencement ceremony in September.

In a statement, A&M-San Antonio President Cynthia Teniente-Matson said he had earned the right to be called an A&M-San Antonio graduate.

“He truly embodied the work ethic and the dedication to learning that many of our students represent,” Teniente-Matson said. “We’re honored to include him in our graduating class.”

Wagstaff said the recognition is the only good news she’s gotten in quite a while.

Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter at@cmpcamille.

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Camille Phillips can be reached at camille@tpr.org or on Instagram at camille.m.phillips. TPR was founded by and is supported by our community. If you value our commitment to the highest standards of responsible journalism and are able to do so, please consider making your gift of support today.